The 1929 Geneva Convention was signed in Geneva on July 27. Its official name is the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. It entered into force on 19 June 1931. People often refer to THE Geneva Convention, whereas there have been many Geneva Conventions resulting at present in four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for humanitarian approaches to certain aspects of war. The Geneva Convention of 1929 covered the treatment of prisoners of war during World War II. It is the predecessor of the Third Geneva Convention signed in 1949. This later Convention was made necessary because of the widespread disregard for the 1929 Convention, and because of its loopholes and ambiguities. Unfortunately the 1949 Convention has also been widely disregarded by its signatories since then to the present day.
The 1929 Convention contains 97 articles. They can be grouped as follows:
Articles 1 to 3 cover who counts as a legitimate prisoner of war (POW).
Articles 2 to 4 specify that POW’s are prisoners of the power which holds them and not prisoners of the unit which takes their surrender; that POW’s have the right to honor and respect; that women should be treated with all the regard due to their sex; and that prisoners of a similar category must be treated in the same way.
Articles 5 and 6 cover what may or may not be done to a prisoner on capture. If requested, unless too ill to comply, prisoners are bound to give their true name and rank, but they may not be coerced into giving any more information. Prisoners’ personal possessions, other than arms and horses, may not be taken from them.
Articles 7 and 8 state that prisoners should be evacuated from the combat zone within the shortest possible period, and that belligerents are bound mutually to notify each other of their capture of prisoners within the shortest period possible.
Articles 9 and 10 cover the type of camp in which POW’s may be detained. They must be constructed in such a way that the conditions are similar to those used by the belligerent’s own soldiers in base camps. The camps must be located in healthy locations and away from the combat zone.
Articles 11 to 13 state that the food served in the camps must be of a similar quality and quantity to that of the belligerent’s own soldiers, and POW’s cannot be denied food as a punishment. A canteen selling local produce and products should be provided. Adequate clothing should be provided; and sanitary service in camps should be more than sufficient to prevent epidemics.
Articles 14 and 15 cover the provision of medical facilities in each camp.
Articles 16 and 17 cover the provision of religious needs, intellectual diversions, and sport facilities.
Articles 18 and 19 cover the internal discipline of a camp which is under the command of a responsible officer.
Articles 20 to 23 state that officers and persons of equivalent status who are prisoners of war should be treated with the regard due their rank and age, and go on to provide details on what that treatment should be.
Article 24 covers the rate of pay of prisoners of war.
Articles 25 and 26 cover the responsibilities of the detaining authority when transferring prisoners from one location to another. Prisoners must be healthy enough to travel, they must be informed as to where they are being transferred, and their personal possessions, including bank accounts, should remain accessible.
Articles 27 to 34 cover labor by prisoners of war. Work must fit the rank and health of the prisoners. The work must not be war-related and must be safe work. Remuneration will be agreed between the belligerents and will belong to the prisoner who carries out the work.
Articles 35 to 41 cover how and when prisoners of war may correspond with others. Prisoners should be allowed to correspond with their family within a week of capture. They should be allowed to receive letters, and parcels which contain books, which may be censored, food, and clothing.
Articles 42 to 67 cover the prisoners’ relations with the authorities. Most of these provisions are covered by the provision that prisoners are under the detaining power’s own code of military regulations, with some additional provisions which cover specific prisoner of war issues and some other provisions to protect prisoners of war if the military regulations of the detaining power do not meet a minimum standard.
Articles 68 to 74 state that seriously sick and seriously injured prisoners of war must be repatriated as soon as their condition allows and no repatriated person may be utilized in active military service.
Article 75 covers release at the end of hostilities. The release of prisoners should form part of the armistice. If this is not possible then repatriation of prisoners should be effected with the least possible delay after the conclusion of peace.
Article 76 covers prisoners of war dying in captivity: they should be honorably buried and their graves marked and maintained properly. Wills and death certificate provisions should be the same as those for the detaining power’s own soldiers.
Articles 77 to 80 cover how and how frequently the powers should exchange information about prisoners and the details of how relief societies for prisoners of war should be involved in their relief.
Article 81 states that individuals who follow armed forces without directly belonging thereto, who fall into the enemy’s hands and whom the latter think expedient to detain, should be entitled to be treated as prisoners of war. This provision covers military support contractors and civilian war correspondents
Articles 82 to 97 cover the technicalities of the implementation of this convention
53 countries ratified the Convention. Countries that ratified the Convention are called State Parties. Not all countries that later were involved in World War II ratified the Convention. Russia and Japan, signed the Convention, but did not ratify it. They were ‘state signatories’ only. As we all know from history these articles were by no means followed by the parties involved in World War II, some powers ignoring them more than others. I won’t get into that. War is brutal, no matter what. Let us simply celebrate the fact that efforts were being made (after the devastation of World War I) to inject a degree of humanity into an inhumane situation.
Because the Convention requires that POW’s be served food similar to camp mess halls I have decided to include a classic U.S. army breakfast dish – chipped beef on toast, commonly known as ‘shit on a shingle’ by the soldiers. It’s easy to see why it is common in camp messes. The beef can be stored without refrigeration for long periods, the milk can be reconstituted from powder, and vegetable oil can replace the butter. Thus, all the ingredients can be stored for long periods under poor conditions. I make chipped beef once in a while and like it, although I can see how a steady diet of it would be cause for complaint. This is a stock recipe from my days living in a fishing village in coastal North Carolina. It’s simplicity itself – thin slices of dried beef in a plain béchamel sauce over toast. You could add a little nutmeg to the béchamel if you like, but there is no need for salt in the sauce because the beef is salty enough.
Chipped Beef on Toast
6 oz dried beef, sliced into ribbons
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
white pepper to taste
4 toast squares
Melt the butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add the flour to the pan and whisk for several minutes without browning. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking continuously until a thick sauce forms. Add pepper to taste and stir in the dried beef. Heat through.
Serve over plain toast.